Remarks on the Belizean Diaspora, Blog-Radio

Persons interested in issues of the Belize diaspora should visit and join the “Belizean Diaspora Voting Rights: Reconnecting and unifying the Belizean people”. It is a discussion group on the Facebook social-network. A new outlet for its discussions is also “All things Belizean” a radio-blog hosted by Hubert Pipersburgh.

Today’s discussion was hosted by Hubert Pipersburgh and Bilal Morris, both from the Los Angeles based organization called Belize Rural Economic Development of Agriculture through Alliance (BREDAA). The discussion is an interesting one for those interesting in familiarizing themselves with the concerns and arguments at the moment.

I want to highlight two strong points from the discussants. Hubert mentions the necessity of ‘mature politics’. ‘Mature politics’ in this sense refers to the ability to become critical participants in our society. It is a move beyond the lens of the PUDP rethorics (People’s United Party/United Democratic Party). This is a critical point as this issue of citizenship by diaspora Belizeans has become politicized in the past. One strong point in Bilal’s input is the necessity for the diaspora to mobilize in Belize. Bilal argues that this it is crucial for the diaspora to make its presence known in Belize and gain support in the homeland. There are various diaspora collations in the United States but none on the ground in Belize. This point is logical and deserves to be re-thought by those interested in the diaspora representation.

Now the major weakness I see in the discussion was the argument that Central American immigrants, who in many cases are naturalized Belizeans, are ‘demanding representation’ at the expense of born Belizeans. The discussants gave no example or evidence of this happening. Yet this form of reasoning appears more than once in the talk along with the notion that Central-Americans are ‘displacing’ born Belizeans.

I fear that this form of reasoning will fall into a dichotomy of “us” against “them”. This was hinted as the way this form of politics works: Belizeans in the USA ‘envy’ African-Americans; Creole Belizeans ‘envy’ Central Americans; Central Americans ‘envy’ born Belizeans. The argument is that these groups then mobilize to access the rights/privilege of the “other”. This is perhaps one of the biggest troubles and dilemmas of identity politics we discussed in Bilal’s post on “Who is articulating Belize's agenda on race, music & culture?”.

It is also a phenomenon we noted in a post on gender politics and feminism. Initially, feminists sought to fit in on the term/standards of the rights of man. Then the issue then became that these women, ‘first wave feminists’, were actually articulating representation for a white-middle-class-women. There was no inclusion of women of color, homosexual women, third-world women, etc. And today, it is now recognized that no one group or person can provide one universal description of "what is a woman" for feminist politics. Therefore, we must try to learn from this. There is no essentialized 'diaspora' or 'Belizean' out there. 

I do agree with the discussants that identity politics among immigrants is becoming increasingly common in many societies, particularly in the West (USA/Canada/Western Europe). However, there is no mobilization by Central Americans/naturalized Belizeans for representation, as a homogenized group as such (at least not yet).

In recent years, the only comparable argument near this has been by the Belize Grass Roots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA). Part of their arguments has been that if immigrants can squat on land - so can native Belizeans.  I do believe that Belizeans need greater access to land but I am very critical of these forms of politics and its popular logics. A similar stream of thought has been projected by Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action (COLA) among other groups. These forms of politics will only further accentuate the tensions between born Belizeans, naturalized Belizeans, and Belizeans abroad – it is play of differences that matters.

I fear that we may enter the trap of a dichotomous identity politics that could become very troublesome for our society. Indeed, I am already noting this in some of the posts by other members and at one point in talk show where it’s briefly discussed whether Guatemalan’s should (or should not) become naturalized Belizeans given our diplomatic issues. This form of argument has a popular appeal but is very essentialist and oppositional. This is a typical occurrence in identity politics but is an unusual path for Belize which has not had serious problem with ethnic politics so far (see Bolland’s and Shoman’s historical overview of this).

These are not the only strengths or issues discussed. I encourage you to listen to the talk.  Additionally, I want to end by re-posting a comment I had made on national identity and diaspora politics: Cultural identity is about representation/redistribution. The question which remains is whether Belizeans can begin to articulate an identity which can remain un-fixed to the extent that it accommodates differences while being an effective concept/ideology for a new radical mobilization//democratization? (-For theoretical discussions on this I recommend the works of Stuart Hall, such as Old and New Ethnicities (1991)). 

One should also listen to the discussions by SPEAR hosted by BREDAA in Los Angeles in 1989 in which issues of national identity and diaspora rights are discussed: 

*I have also spoken with Bilal Morris on this issue and I am aware that he does not see Central Americans as a problem but the form of arguments discussed were based on a premise that Central Americans are demanding representation. Perhaps, other persons can provide alternative interpretations or points for discussion. 


  1. Your analysis has helped to shape the argument on the Belizean diaspora issue in terms of forging a new sense of thinking in how Belizean immigrants from Central America are interpreting how politics in Belize is influencing the changing demographic dynamics in Belize's diverse population. You rejected the notion that Central American immigrants are demanding representation as an influential immigrant group in Belize but have not provided enough evidence to show otherwise. It is also true that my presentation on the show did not provide enough evidence to show that this phenomena is happening. It is very interesting that you feel that the Belizean diaspora issue and how it has played out on the ground in Belize in conjunction with the Belize / Guatemalan dispute is conflict politics, and will subsequently create a backlash against naturalized Central America immigrants in Belize that now hold Belizean citizenship. I disagree that it will further erode unity among the Belizean people. I believe that with better understanding through popular education of the issue as a global immigration crisis in Belize among Belizeans at home and abroad, the delicate balance between Central American immigrants in Belize and homegrown Belizeans will hold.

    1. The rejection that Central American immigrants are demanding representation is on the basis that I have no evidence of this happening. There are no immigrant coalitions that are demanding recognition. Most immigrants and those naturalized for instance are referred to under the cultural term of "Spanish" for the most part. Now, in the 2010 Census, a move was made to use the word "Hispanics" but this had nothing to do with groups lobbying but by their expertise at the institute.

      Perhaps, one would make a case that immigrants/naturalized citizens are demanding/gaining access to land and citizenship. I would contest this on the basis that it's a political maneuver for the most part in benefit of the politician to hold office. There is always a high number of citizenship approvals before election, an act executed by the PUDP. This is not because immigrants are demanding it - but because of politicians who are 'facilitating' the quick and free process. This is the same process with land distribution. After elections, naturalized citizens like many other Belizeans can rarely count on the promises made by politicians. I remember hearing these narratives in a small interview research a colleague and I did in Salvapan in 2011, which I hope to revise as an article post.

  2. Dear readers, several persons have engaged me on Facebook (Belize Diaspora Group) on these issues. I want to place my responses here for you to gain a broader perspective of the issues and arguments. I will not re-post the comments from Facebook since that’s a bit disrespectful. I will phrase the comments I am responding to in a question/critical comment version:
    Question: The constitution prohibits the granting of citizenship to persons from countries who don’t acknowledge the territorial sovereignty of Belize; therefore, this is a national security issue which should not be compromise. Moreover, even in the case where a Minister does grant a Guatemalan Belizean citizenship this is still dangerous because they will side with Guatemala.
    In response to the first I would revise the interpretation to say that the constitution does not make mention that they must have surrendered their papers to Guatemala embassy (the case under discussion). It does say that the Minister has to approve and the Minister has to approve all citizenships.
    (3) No person shall be entitled under the provisions of this Part to be a citizen of Belize or be granted citizenship of Belize if such person shows any allegiance to or is a citizen of a country which does not recognise the independence, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Belize:

    *Provided that the Minister may in his discretion grant Belizean citizenship to persons falling under this subsection who would otherwise been titled to such citizenship under the provisions of sections 23 and 25 of this Constitution.

    So you are right so far that a Minister must approve. This may become a contentious issue and people may seek to have Minister’s no longer allow Guatemalan citizenship if they lobby hard.
    Regarding the second point, I would say that rarely are any 70 year old Guatemalans coming to Belize imbued with a “Belice es nuestro” ideology. The general sentiments I gather from Guatemalans over past years has not been this mentality. Things have shifted. If one observes the flow and exchanges of communication and goods between people at say the Benque and Melchor border, one does not get the sense that it is such an alarming issue. This can be noted in cultural exchanges at the Benque House of Culture; at the business markets; at the schools; at the hospitals. I’ve also been treated at the Hospital in Melchor when I was ill (no I don’t have Guatemalan papers but sometimes the services are better * And yes you can tell doctor you are Belizean). Additionally, when I graduated at Mopan Technical High School, our valedictorian was a Guatemalan. She would commute daily. I also perceive that they are many cases in which if one speaks to a Gautemalan and/or one that is naturalized Belizean that they don’t understand or care much about the diplomatic history of the dispute. The same can be said with many born Belizeans. It is seen as an elitist political matter. (*I’m born and raised in San Ignacio by the way).

  3. Question:
    The territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala is an existential issue. It is promoted by a military oligarchy class in Guatemala and not so much by the indigenous people but it poses a real threat to Belize. In Belize, this is not a “elitist political matter” as you have suggested. Additionally, you should join in solidarity with us who oppose this oligarchy.
    Acknowledged. I would say that our notions of national identification differ to some extents. I do not think that a territorial category defines a person precisely and definitively. Beyond that, I would say that your framework of Guatemalan identity is somewhat similar to what some of my arguments may have solicited. You mention that there are two Guatemalans - one "poor working class majority" and a "military oligarchy ruling class". Why is it the case that this issue cannot also be said to also be "elitist" in Belize? You rejected this in saying "Contrary to your statement it's not an elitist political matter for Belizeans".

    You have suggested that there is a Guatemalan elitist class who are the agitators of the claim. I have suggested that in Belize it is not so much that we have one set of elitist agitators, which we do not. But rather that “it is seen as an elitist political matter”. This is to say that Belizeans do not invest time and resources to engage themselves into the history and dynamics of the issue. It is therefore an elitist discourse, if we take elitist to mean a discussion with a minor number of participants and not as one dominating ‘class’.

    Additionally, I would say there is no master plan or secretive elitist classes controlling this issue in Belize or Guatemala. Also, there is no one working class, dormantly unified as it were, with one consciousness or worse with a false consciousness. This diplomatic history is complex and I would venture to say that many of politicians don't understand it. Even those whom we may consider to be part of “Belize elites”, -the politicians, don't have a thorough understanding of it. Even us as students of the history program at the University of Belize, struggle to get our heads around all the debates.

    A territorial label or national identity label does summon us to certain ideas and practices. But it never does so with one ultimate set of ideas or forever. It is always socio-historically situated and changing. In this manner we can appreciate the territorial dispute as an ideological discourse. This is not to say that it has no material basis, which it does. It summons people to patrol our border, as we have seen. The question is: can we begin to articulate that this as an ideological issue. This shifts our supposition that one national label – being Guatemalan makes a person a threat. It also shifts our perspective to be able to appreciate the reality that Belizeans have different ideas and understanding of this issue; that these ideas change over time; that there is no one definitive Belizean identity out there. So some groups are seeking to mobilize citizens under the "Belizean" label to patrol the border. The argument is that this is real nationalism; I do not believe it is. I am equally weary of Guatemalans who seek to mobilize and polarize citizens like this.

    This is similar to the discussion on the diaspora. Why is it seen that having an American passport or any other dual citizenship makes one less Belizean. These labels don’t define us completely. In this regard, the territorial dispute remains an ideological playing field with real material consequences. But I am suggesting that we move beyond an “us and them” binary with the chance of advancing peace. I am not suggesting that this will be the perfect solution. There are no guarantees.

  4. Question:
    Your position that the territorial dispute is ideological suggests that it is nothing but ideas. It does not accommodate the reality of the impact the Guatemalan claim has had on our political history and current developmental impact.
    I totally agree that it's has 'real consequences' as I've stated. But this does not take away that it is an ideological discourse - (one driven by a limited number of participants from its inception). This ideological discourse operates within the language of meanings - it becomes attached to other notions such as ecological damage; it becomes attached to nationalism/patriotism; international diplomacy among others. * This is the point from which I suggest that: These national labels don’t define us completely. The territorial dispute remains an ideological playing field with real material consequences. But I am suggesting that we move beyond an “us and them” binary with the chance of advancing peace. I am not suggesting that this will be the perfect solution. There are no guarantees.
    If this dispute is simply about ideas, perhaps the easy option is for you to go convince the Guatemalan military that this is an ideological issue which they should give up. We Belizeans must remain defensive of our territory.
    Perhaps a clarification on what I mean by ideology is necessary. Ideologies are clusters of representations; it is the bridging together of different ideas and social practices. We all operate within ideologies. Now a dominant ideology functions to allow certain actions or inactions to take place but never determines social action universally and eternally. Historically we can think of the “colonial discourse” as an ideology that for instance allowed for the massacre and enslavement of millions of people. At current, the idea of the nation-state and national identity is a fairly recent dominant ideology in our human history.

    Regarding the suggestion, it is tantamount to suggesting that a slave tell a slave master during colonial period that the notion that a slave is less than human is an incorrect idea. Ideas matter, these are “deadly serious matters” in the words of Stuart Hall. Furthermore, I would think the challenge is not persuade the military but the masses and media.


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